Solitude, Bookended

Posted on 26 January 2015

I disentangled myself from the small car, swinging my backpack over my shoulders while waving goodbye to the two older Estonian ladies who gave me a ride to the Viru Bog trailhead from the too far away bus stop I landed at when the driver ignored my request for the stop before. The women smiled widely, kindly at me and I grabbed comfort in those smiles—not because I was nervous but because they acknowledged me as a young woman, out on my own, telling me how wonderful it was and to be careful and how to find my way back to Tallinn. They drove away and I plodded onto the path.

The weeks behind me stretched out full of people, amazing people, people I held close and continue to. But the fact remained: every day I spent with others, every night others slept near. Now I was alone for the whole day, in the woods, and it was a change, is all, a change born from a stubborn curiosity that latches. Lahemaa National Park, I had repeatedly explained, was the first national park of the Soviet Union! It is supposed to be very beautiful. There is a bog with a watchtower over it. There are trails and campgrounds, and even villages. I’m going there. I had decided while leafing through pages on Estonia. Though my time in the country was still too short, I was determined to see more than last time, and that included some wild places.

 

Moss in Lahemaa National Park Trail through Viru Bog

 

 

The soft light filtered its way through the trees. After a couple of minutes of walking and looking around, I came to the elevated wooden pathway that made its way through Viru Bog. This was my little hike. I slowly set out, pondering each step, looking around carefully. I had time.

The boardwalk split—I took the shorter way and came to a dead end platform with a bench. I sat and slowly ate some of the karjalanpiirakat I had found much to my delight at the grocery store that morning while getting provisions. Karjalanpiirakat are bliss. I sat there in the larger silence that was punctuated by smaller-scale noise: something created a ripple in the water; I heard a bird. I drank a bit and started walking again.

 

Viru Bog Reflection Sundews, Lahemaa National Park

 

I stopped to take photos, and I stopped to read every sign along the path. There are sundews, one told me. I squatted down at the edge of the board walk, careful not to topple off, and indeed—there were. Periodically I would crouch, to peer at these cute little sundews as well as mushrooms and mosses. Then I would stand up and take in the larger sights in front of me: trees, yellow grasses, boggy water, sometimes grouped into a pond. The path led to a tower, windy at the top, but which provided a more than adequate view by which I, surrounded, ate the rest of my karjalanpiirakat.

 

 

Shadows, Viru Bog

 

The trail ended. I had traversed the bog, but still had plenty of time. So I walked slowly among more trails, realizing that there were blueberries in the woods. I began to pick them, gathering a fistful before smashing them into in my mouth. Over and over. My palm turned purple. I decided then to pick blueberries for my current and upcoming hosts as a gift, something that required more effort than popping into a shop. I ate my second yogurt despite not being hungry, simply so I could use the container. I rinsed with my drinking water, and then began to pick, stooped among the bushes. By now I had migrated off any main park paths, and was in fact on a small trail that led directly off the road to nowhere, ending after just a minute’s walk. I circled around, picking, picking, eating, and before I expected, my containers were full.

 

Pond, Viru Bog

 

It was time to go back. I was done, and I wanted to be back in Tallinn before dark. No bus stop presented itself to me so I ambled up to a women changing shoes by her car. “Do you speak English?” “No…” “По-пусски?” “Да!” And thus, in Russian, I asked her about the bus. She wasn’t sure because she came by car, but she asked the two men she was with if they could give me a ride. Sure, they agreed. So I climbed in with Vera, her husband, Andrei, and “grandpa,” Georg. My Russian-speaking American self charmed them right away, especially when I explained I knew about United World Colleges and that, in fact, I knew an Estonian who went to one. Their son had too, and he was now studying at a liberal arts college in the U.S. Dmitri endlessly told me I should be a politician, since I could speak Russian. They asked me all sorts of questions about my travels and about education in the States. Instead of dropping me off at a bus stop near where they lived at the outskirts of Tallinn as they had originally agreed, they went ahead and drove me right to the old town, near where I was staying. I felt a little sad to wave goodbye.

 

Finland! What to Do in Helsinki.

Posted on 20 January 2015

Inside Art, Kiasma

Truly, if I had to choose one favorite city, I would pick Helsinki. I happily had the chance to live one full summer there, sharing an apartment with a Finnish friend and studying Finnish at Helsinki Summer University. This was my first proper experience in Helsinki, since the first time I chose to visit Helsinki, it was empty.

In 2006, my family landed at the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, spending one night in the capital before taking the train to Seinäjoki the following morning. We arrived in Finland on midsummer, Juhannus, which is an important holiday. People leave the city and flock to their summer cabins. No joke, the streets were basically empty.

However, now I have ample experience both living in and short-term visiting Helsinki to advise you on what to do in this wonderful city that is not usually so empty!

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Aitäh for the Genuine

Posted on 17 January 2015

I took one photo in Tartu, which stands opposing the whirlwind night and day I spent there. You see, Tartu isn’t undeserving of photos, but the hours I spent there were filled with people moreso than scenery, and we ran through the dark for more hours than we spent traipsing through the daylight.

Travel expanded this day for me. I went from Riga to Sigulda to Riga to Tartu, Estonia. The bus pulled in at 11:15pm and Tiina, my BeWelcome host, was there at the bus station waiting for me. She brought me back to her place, fed me a snack, and then we set out for the night. Tiina had just finished her last master’s exam for her degree (Finno-Ugric languages—how cool is that?) and we were meeting some friends of hers to celebrate. This gathering also entailed showing the visitor, me, all aspects of nightlife Tartu, a tour of sorts.

If you think hanging out with a troop of strangers is awkward, you should spend more time with these welcoming types. Over and over I find that the people I meet through hospitality websites are among the most open and genuine there are. Despite the long hours, I sat in the first bar with Tiina and two of her friends, also foreigners to Estonia in fact, and we chatted amicably.

Ready to go and begin the tour, we stopped in another supposedly cool bar, now packed with Erasmus students swarming along on their first bar crawl of the school year. We walked through the taken seats and moved on. Upstairs to a weird retro disco bar we went, empty but for two creepy-vibing men and one woman, who grabbed onto me and blurted something in Estonian that I obviously didn’t understand. The song changed and she motioned us off the floor. What? I took this moment to run back down the steps and the others piled out after me, laughing. The women wanted us to leave the dance floor to protest a song she didn’t like, but we just left. They had shown me the sight of this funny place, and so and we walked on giggling.

Another bar. It was too crowded so we sat on the stairs near the entry, talking until it closed. And then, a club. We trooped in. I had spent the day hiking and was dressed in jeans and I don’t even remember what. A hoodie probably. Tiina likewise was wearing casual clothes. Around us, people all done up, looking for something, radiated self-consciousness, bumping into others casually. We danced like crazy and how glorious, I thought, it is to just be a little mad and uncaring and comfortable just as you are. Tiina bounced around in front of me and I admired her so.

We got hot from dancing and parted for the last stop on the tour, the bar of sticky beer floors and Estonians slumped over in drunken sleep. I navigated my way through the bodies, observing. We ran into Tiina’s friends at every turn and chatted for moments.

And finally it was after 5am and Tiina and I walked back to her apartment, not to sleep right away, but to chat, conversing more openly than I talk to many people I’ve known for much longer than 12 or so hours.

In the morning, or rather around noon, Tiina and I went for a breakfast of crepes. Then she showed me Tartu by day. We walked through the streets that looked much different now in the daylight. We went to the market and Tiina bought some beans that her grandparents would cook for her when she was younger. We went and sat by the river for awhile, just talking. Then, tired still, we went back to her place, where Tiina boiled the beans in salty water for a tasty dinner. She helped me buy my ferry tickets from Tallinn to Helsinki and arranged for me to stay in her friends’ place in Tallinn the two nights I’d be there.

We had to walk quickly to catch my bus since we had been lying about chatting for a little too long. We hugged and wished that we’d see each other again. In fact, I was to see Tiina just a day later in Tallinn.

All this to say: it is the genuine to their core people who I admire. It is the open and the embracing people. And more often than not, I find these people while traveling, because they’re the ones who welcome the wanderers in, with a full understanding. It is with these people that you don’t need to feel at all closed and shifty; you just act as your true self along with them and there’s no exclusion. Tiina taught me that the only non-borrowed word in Estonian with the stress not on the first syllable is aitäh, thank you. Tiina clarified for me why I stubbornly stick to using hospitality exchanges as much as I can—for the people I meet, for the people I want to meet again.

I will always remember crazy dancing in the club, appearing just as I was, not even caring. Not even caring. Aitäh, Tartu; aitäh, Tiina.

Tartu, Estonia

Finland! Know Before You Go.

Posted on 5 January 2015

As a Westerner traveling to another Western country, I sometimes can get slightly lulled by a sense of familiarity. On the very surface, things appear to be similar to my home in the United States. It is easy for me to figure out transportation, use the grocery stores, and even the bathrooms, for example. In this way, when I visit Finland, it is much easier than when I travel to non-Western countries. And truthfully, Finland is very tourist-friendly. However, it is also its own unique country, and with that come a few things that would be useful to know before visiting Finland yourself!

Read More…

 

Finnish Apples

Exposed Means Open

Posted on 1 January 2015

I got off the bus in Sigulda and began wandering in what I thought was the direction of the sites based on my previous glances at maps. Castles, palaces, forest—I’d see what I’d see. Only shouldering my little backpack (my large one sat in storage at the Riga bus station), armed with water and not really any snacks, I had the day to spare before taking an evening bus from Riga to Tartu, Estonia.

I found the Gauja River after hopping down a muddy batch of stairs and walked across the bridge alongside the cars passing by. To my upper right I saw the tower of Turaida Castle peeking out from above the trees. Aha, I’ll go there, I thought. After examining my options, I opted for a path through the woods along the river that led in the right direction. There were mosquitoes.

The path emerged by Gutmanis Cave, where I asked a park staff member, skirting the crowd of tourists on one of those mega clunky buses, how to get there. I’d walk along the road, she told me, right up the hill, around to the left, and then I’d see it. Or, I could climb up above the cave, and follow the dirt path, but that was tougher.

Well I didn’t want to walk along the road.

So I hiked up the stairs, quite many, up over the cave, well above the road, and followed the lightly marked trail. A few times I must have lost my way and taken secondary paths, because I ended up going downhill and meeting the road, at which point I’d sigh, getting tired, and then trundle upward again, because I stubbornly prefer the woods.

The clouds darkened threateningly.

The path emerged from the trees at spots and I was essentially walking in people’s backyards. I saw their cute houses, their parked cars, their animals, their gardens, the steely sky.

The clouds let go and rain crashed down. Luckily I had remembered my raincoat and the rain cover for my backpack so I threw those on and continued toward the castle. Somehow, I let the rain wash over me and didn’t terribly mind. Once I made it to the grounds, the rain slowed, then stopped. The sun came out. I wandered around the castle grounds until I estimated that I needed to head back to Sigulda in time to grab a late lunch before my bus back to Riga.

Turaida Castle was nice, really, but the best part of my excursion was walking on the ridge above the road behind others’ homes. There, by myself, peering at authentic, present life, which struck me as more beautiful, more fascinating than a shell. And me—more vulnerable, more exposed, more open to it all.

On my way to the local bus stop, I grabbed an apple off a tree to munch.

 

Storm above Sigulda

2014, Mountains of Everything

Posted on 28 December 2014

Dividing the year by months perhaps isn’t the easiest thing to do. This year, more than many others, stretched and shrank; some days did not end and some weeks flew by, for better and worse, all blurry and already past. My brain was not a reliable instrument. Some things it refuses to remember clearly. What happened to me in January, in February? It is hard to say. And then, what in August, in September, in October? Too much to say. Nonetheless, I split the year into twelve parts, simply because I like lists.


January. The year turned over grey.

February. I couldn’t hide. Everything was bleak was seemingly endless. That’s all I’ll say.

March. It began with headaches, but gradually that passed. And I went to New York City, and I saw a very best friend, and we danced to Cut Copy, and I met Gandalf (okay, Ian McKellen). I was emerging into my world again. But back to work.

April. Just work, which stretched on, monotonizing the days. But the end was, at last, in sight. I looked forward to something, once more. Looking forward is important. You need to see a future.

 

Kokosing Gap Trail Bridge

 

May. Things started to brighten. I left my job. My friend came from Finland (one home) and we went to Gambier (another home) and Bloomington (a former home) and Mammoth Cave (which is just cool). We spent the hours on roads talking and talking. Four years of separation: nothing. The past compressed and we remembered all the words to our teenager music just perfectly. Now and the past clasped hands, just right.

June. When someone invites you to go to Siberia with them, say yes. Yes, yes, yes, it’s crazy, I’m crazy, I bowed my head to everyone. But I liked sitting at home with a grand adventure ahead, planning away. In between, I was in a friend’s wedding and two of us bridesmaids epically danced to Wonderwall. Slowly, turning back to myself.

July. More time sitting at home, some spent interning, some planning, some reading. I was on a cusp.

 

Atop Vityaz

 

August. Ben graduated, we celebrated, and then I was gone. To Siberia! This choice I made was the best choice. This time in Siberia was the best time. I needed a cleansing more than I even imagined and, let me tell you, trees stretching endlessly on, freezing cold rushing rivers, a clear lake as far as one can see, a sky untouched by electricity—this all washes through you, sweeping the dark grit away. And then! As if Siberia wasn’t perfect enough, after the aching, parting goodbyes, I made my way through Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia and joined up with other wonderful people. I walked through streets, I cycled through dunes, I walked through forests. I know things that make me happy, and this is one.

September. September started in Finland. I had made it, which was secretly beyond my hopes at the beginning of the year. Friends, mushrooms, Helsinki, sauna, art. It’s all the best. And then, the country-hopping concluded, back to the arms of my partner, now a bit stronger, and certainly happier.

 

Hämeenlinna Lake

 

October. Now I had to live the normal life again, but the travel glow encapsulated me. I applied to jobs. I traveled to DC for a wedding. At the very end of the month, Ben and I flew to Seattle to scope out a future life. And it came faster than we guessed: on Halloween, I got a job offer.

November. The task of shaping this new life began. Ben and I searched for a place for me to stay in Seattle. But you can’t go all the way to the Pacific Northwest and ignore the outdoors, so despite the logistical planning of moving across the country, we made our way to Olympic National Park to camp for a week. Rainforest to mountains to beaches—this is a good place. Back to Nashville for a few days, packing the belongings I could fit in my little car. Then, eleven states in four days. Then, moving in. Then, starting my new job. November was a lot.

 

Atop Hurricane Ridge

 

December. I explored Seattle; I adjusted to my new job. And I’ll admit, I’m still anxious to settle down for real, as in not in a temporary place, as in back with Ben. To end the year, however, I’m back in Nashville, with him, for the holidays, for helping with moving arrangements. But 2014 moved forward indeed, and I needed that.


2015 may well shift in ways I can’t imagine. 2014 contained more than I dared hope for, though the beginning was a battle I didn’t think I would win. By the end, I met most of my goals, and achieved more important things than that list says.

If 2014 had a bottom line, it would be this: you need to hold on to what makes you happy. Tightly. Scrappily. Grab what you can.

Finnish! Words to Know.

Posted on 24 December 2014

My Finnish Poetry

 

It is easy to not speak any Finnish in Finland. The blunt truth is that if you plan to visit Finland, you don’t need to know any Finnish to get by. Most Finns speak excellent English and are not at all offended that you can’t speak Finnish. After all, they are well aware that their language is small and, when compared to other European languages, and a bit strange.

However, in general, I believe it is important to learn at least a few phrases of the local language wherever you go—not only does it demonstrate respect and curiosity, but it will probably lead to some fun conversations with locals who enjoy teaching you silly words.

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This is the second article in a series I have been asked to write for Pink Pangea as their new Country Expert on Finland.

Oh joo, and I did write that absolutely amazing refrigerator magnet Finnish poetry over there, kiitti.

Riga Weathers

Posted on 21 December 2014

Riga Rainbow

 

A rainbow shone further on down the street, flanked by old, tall buildings. Aija and I walked to her apartment so I could drop off my backpack. I had just arrived in Riga and already, I was learning a lot. As we made our way along, Aija expertly kept up with my curiosity and related various facts about the city to me. She was a professional guide, truly—she works for the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. So thus we chattered away as the rainbow faded and the sun began to drift lower.

The wind whipped our hair around—even my short hair—an hour later as we stood on the roof of the mall, peering over the skyline of Riga. The sky was turning a deep, dark blue. The Academy of Science building poked up in its Stalinist style, towering over most of the other buildings, and second only to the piercing radio and TV tower. Once back on the ground, we made our way to Ezītis Miglā, a bar/café named after the wonderful Soviet animation Ежик В Тумане (Hedgehog in the Fog), and ate French fries and fried rye bread dipped in cheese while surrounded by hipsterish decorations of grumpy cat and her ilk. After that, a bar called Leningrad, and then a (quite nice, I thought) folk club called Ala. Riga, it’s all there—from the shadows of Soviet domination to the assertions of traditional Latvian cultural elements to the mundane that would not be out-of-place even further west in Europe. Aija and I went to bed quite late after our hopping around from one place and mood to another.

 

Riga Skyline

 

The next day, a far darker activity: a stroll through the free section of the newly- and not-for-long opened KGB museum in the real former KGB headquarters. A large Latvian flag loomed overhead in the courtyard. We read through the exhibits and left, passing by the execution room. The floor was slightly tipped so blood would run down the drain. In this very room. It was grey. We stepped out into the sunlight, the flag bright overhead. During Soviet rule, this flag certainly did not fly. Here it was now, twisted, flowing upward. Plenty of others passed by, entering and exiting the exhibit.

 

Latvian Flag

 

It is hard to shake that glum, KGB feeling, but we couldn’t ignore grand Riga either. There is more to it. Aija brought me to Alberta iela to see the intricate art nouveau buildings. Then we had tasty potato pancakes. And then frozen yogurt. After that, we met up with Aija’s Austrian friends and their Polish couchsurfer and had dinner together. The conversation was light. That evening, it poured rain.

On my last full day in the city, Aija gave me a personal tour of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, which I had been very much looking forward to. A Ukrainian flag flew above the museum and another was draped on the door, in a message of solidarity. We know what this is like, the museum seemed to say. The tour guides had blue and yellow ribbons tied around their wrists, and Aija gave me one too. She showed me through the museum, which documents the Soviet, then the Nazi, and again the Soviet occupations. I lingered over a display showing items made by prisoners who were sent to the gulag, far far away, in Siberia. Messages on birch bark, laboriously scratched in, the writer so terribly far from a home that was no longer theirs.

 

The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia

 

During Soviet rule, there was a concerted effort to diminish the Baltic populations and languages. Similar happened in other areas under Soviet control. In 1935 Latvia, Latvians made up 75.5% of the population, while Russians consisted of 10.6%. Fast forward to the end of Soviet rule in 1989—52% Latvian, 34% Russian. These forced shifts—Latvians out, Russians in—aren’t easily undone, or comfortably settled. Latvians remain wary, and there’s a reason for that. The staff of the museum routinely face objections from Russians who tell them Latvia was never occupied.

On the street the day before, a crazy old lady shouted, “it’s a pity Stalin isn’t still alive!” We should be well over a half-century removed from him. But you see, we might be further removed by time than by mind. Molotov-Ribbentrop’s lines drawn in ink have left lasting smudges, for ink can’t be so easily erased.

 

Ezītis Miglā

 

After my tour, leaving Aija at work, I sheltered from the lingering chill in Ezītis Miglā, eating fries and sipping coffee. After warming up, I battled the wind to make my way over the Daugava River, from old town to the new national library. Inside, a choir dressed in national costume sang positioned high and higher on the balconies. I watched, and then wandered back across the river. Rain threatened but did not come. The streets of Old Town, filled with tourists and street performers, provided entertainment until I need quiet, and I sat in a park near the Freedom Monument and across from the museum’s temporary location until Aija finished work. We ate dinner at home and she got some blueberry flavored Latvian treats for me to try.

 

Freedom Monument

 

I left the next morning. The rain held off as I lugged myself and my backpack to the bus station. All sides of Riga watched as I laboriously walked by, the facades alternating between grey and bright with the sun.

Finland! A Packing List.

Posted on 12 December 2014

Planning a Finland travel adventure? Great choice! Finland is one of my favorite countries. I can’t keep myself away—I’ve been seven times so far! All of my trips to this country with its Nordic sheen yet undeniable quirk have given me some travel wisdom that I would like to share with you. Let’s learn from my mistakes and observations and talk about what to pack.

Read More…


This is the first article in a series I have been asked to write for Pink Pangea as their new Country Expert on Finland.

 

Finland Summer Cold

Pedal It Away, Pedal On

Posted on 6 December 2014

I have anxiety. Did you know? Not just the usual worries, the occasional nervousness. No. It has colored my life. It still shadows me, and not infrequently do I step onto darker ground.

But.

I was riding on a train to Klaipėda. I wanted to be there for a few days—enough to bicycle the Lithuanian length of the Curonian Spit. I had spent hours lingering over articles and photos of this place. But I was arriving soon, and I had no place to stay. Klaipėda isn’t very large; Couchsurfing and BeWelcome hadn’t panned out. I wasn’t totally unprepared: I had looked up how to get from the train station to a nearby hostel. And that was it. Maybe I had some little jitters, but mostly I didn’t care. I sat back and chatted with Danute, the older woman sitting next to me.

At home, small things can send me into a shivering whiteout. But traveling is breaking the rules. No—traveling has no rules to break. There is no normality, no routines to follow, all is transient. I didn’t know this before. My stomach was gripped with hot tongs the first time I took off on my own to couchsurf around. But I have learned.

I got off the train and, after walking an extra couple of blocks thanks to a wrong turn, I found the hostel. They had a bed for me. The woman at the desk somewhat explained the best process for biking the Spit, showing me the bus times. Okay, I said. I just have to do it.

Another girl walked into the hostel behind me.

This is traveling. There are no rules. I launched into conversation with her. She is Kariane, she is from Quebec, she too had just completed an eco-volunteering project. We went out to explore the town together and got dinner together, and by the happy end, she had agreed to wake up early early next morning and bike the Curonian Spit with me. Alone is fine, but with a new pal is usually better. We got ice creams at the grocery store on the way back to the hostel.

The next morning we wheeled our rented bikes across the street to the bus station. Our plan hinged on one factor: getting our bikes on this bus, which did not have a bike rack. We wanted the day to cycle the Spit, we wanted this early bus, if it would have us. But, strengthened by a pal at my side, I didn’t fret too much. Well, I fretted a little in the throes of an argument with the Russian-speaking bus driver. But, please, you have a luggage compartment! We need to get down there this morning. What else are we supposed to do? Come on, please, there’s plenty of room for the bikes. The bus driver relented. All nervousness was replaced by a sense of pride at my ability to argue in Russian. We boarded. The bus began the drive to Kaliningrad. We were disembarking at Nida, just on the Lithuanian side of the border. Happy trails, I told the driver.

 

Swan in Nida

 

In Nida, it was slightly sprinkling. The shops weren’t even open yet. Kariane and I searched all around for coffee, before settling for the bus station’s coffee machine. We ate our breakfasts we had bought from the grocery the day before as we sat on the shore facing inland. Ducks and swans paddled around. Nida was cute, so cute. I already wanted to come back and stay for days.

After eating, we hopped on our bikes and cycled around town trying to locate the trail. A little trial-and-error, and we were off through the woods. After one strong downpour, the rain dissipated. The sun began to blaze in earnest, though it was not hot. We crossed the Spit to the oceanside. And behold—the dark sea, the white seacaps, the dunes and their grasses, the wind blowing like mad. Oh yeah, and the old dudes who stripped off their clothes and went running into the sea, not caring that other people were around. Kariane and I sat on the sand and talked and laughed. A no-longer-naked dude came up to me later and asked in German how to get to Nida. I tried to explain. He told me my German was good, though in truth, I was stumbling on Russian words. I was proud. We cycled on. I kept looking toward the beach on my left. It was one of those sights that you don’t want to turn away from.

 

Curonian Spit Shore

 

Eventually we arrived at a choice: cycle back across the Spit to Juodkrantė for lunch or continue on, without adding the extra kilometers? We wanted to see more, and we wanted lunch. So back across we went, the slanty trees pointing us in the correct direction. We did walk up the hill, however. My butt was starting to ache.

Extra distance is almost always worth it. In a hotel in Juodkrantė we lunched on two Lithuanian dishes: fried garlic bread dipped in cheese sauce, and their cold, very pink beet soup with boiled potatoes on the side. It all hit the spot. Back on the road, back up and over the hill (on foot), back along the ocean. My butt hurt more and more, but it was okay. That was the only bummer. Ha ha.

 

Burnt Forest, Curonian SpitPath through Burnt Forest, Curonian Spit

 

Now we were passing through something strange. The forest had burned. There were blackened trees, withered against the ground. There were trees tinged with red. It truth, it was beautiful. We came across a sign that said a forest fire had occurred in 2006. Now they were studying the regrowth. Huh, we thought. This looks… recent. Later I found out, it was. Recent, as in, the past spring.

Through the burnt forest and across a beautiful green field. My butt was really aching now with every pedal. But, we were ahead of schedule. We studied maps at a fork in the road and decided to rest at a beach. We picked a non-nude one. The wind smacked sand against our faces as we crested the dunes and descended to the water below. It was getting chilly. But we sat back, gusting sand and all, for a while. It was nice. The clouds, the granules of sand, the air—but not my mind—spiraled around.

 

Curonian Spit Bike Path

 

And then we were on the final stretch, the remaining kilometers. From Nida to the ferry was about 60 kilometers, including our detour. Arriving in Smiltyne, where the ferry would cross us back over to Klaipėda, we felt quite proud and satisfied. Except for my aching butt. Next time, I’d prefer a more comfortable bike. But no matter! My butt was my one discomfort—just that.

I had gone from not knowing where I would sleep 24 hours previously to having completed one of my most-looked-forward-to stretches of my trip. All with an easily found friend by my side.

Once back in Klaipėda, Kariane and I stopped at a Lithuanian chain and got food and ciders. We were happy. That night in the hostel, tired from the early morning, I relaxed well. In the morning I left for Riga, but with all intentions of returning someday.

The whole time I pedaled, I did not worry one bit.

 

Kariane and I
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